Revenues and Benefits
Simple in principle – efficient collection, and quick and accurate payment of benefits, the recent reality has been anything but for revenues and benefits services. The spectre of universal credit and proposals for reform of the National Non-Domestic Rates service ensures that there is a good degree of doubt over the future direction of the service. In the meantime the service continues to operate under the same constraints as all others within the public sector.
Whilst there is a general reluctance to undertake significant process re-design in this period of doubt, the fundamental factors of the service remain constant and are likely to impact any future delivery arrangement. These are:
- Processing cost and customer outcomes,
- Collecting more money in a difficult climate,
- Benefiting from links with other services.
Processing cost and customer outcomes: Whilst uncertainty over the future direction of the service exists, it has not relieved local financial pressures. Similarly changes smoothing the way for universal credit, such as ATLAS, have introduced additional cost and complexity in the short term even if there is the prospect of long terms benefits.
These costs are in addition to the existing day-to-day costs of managing the process. Issues for many include incomplete applications, slow processing leading to chasing calls, and poor data making contact and decision making difficult. Targeted improvements in these areas have the benefit of delivering a better customer service, whilst providing the opportunity to reduce cost.
Collecting more money in a difficult climate: With well publicised grant reductions, and the move from medium term grants settlements to two year settlements councils are faced with a double whammy of lower cost and less certainty. In such a climate, the natural response is to seek to lessen the commitment on external sources of finance and maximise those over which you have control.
More accurate and complete client information, a higher ratio of automatic payment methods such as DD, and faster targeted action on late payment are just some of the ways of contributing to higher collection. A development of a single view of the debtor across the organisation provides a more transformational but more complex opportunity in the future.
Benefiting from links with other services: Business rates, Council tax and Benefits generate a large proportion of a council's customer contact, particularly cyclical predictable contact. This presents a number of opportunities to provide better and cheaper service by piggybacking activity and using information to simplify services. Opportunities include:
- Grouping activity around the customer, such as promoting commercial waste and other services to business rates payers, using data supplied on initial council tax sign-up to provide services relevant to new residents such as library cards,
- Using service information to enable customer identification such as using council tax records to prove residence for parking permits, simplifying the parking process, whilst providing an additional check on single person discounts.
Revenues and benefits are currently in a period of transition, but this transition is not independent of wider changes within local government and the public sector. Whilst many authorities will want to wait to see how things turn out, others will not have the choice and there are very real present opportunities to provide a better service at a lower cost.